Rachmaninov, Sergei (Vasilyevich)

views updated May 21 2018

Rachmaninov, Sergei (Vasilyevich) (b Semyonovo, Starorussky, 1873; d Beverly Hills, Calif., 1943). Russ. composer, pianist, and conductor (Amer. cit. 1943). Entered St Petersburg Cons. 1882; studied pf. with Nikolay Zverev in Moscow, 1885, and began to compose in 1886. Entered Ziloti's pf. class at Moscow Cons. 1888, also studying counterpoint with Taneyev and harmony with Arensky. In 1890 he began to compose his first pf. conc., completing it a year later. In the summer of 1892 he wrote the Prelude in C♯ minor which became his most celebrated comp. His first opera Aleko was staged at the Bolshoy, Moscow, in 1893 and praised by Tchaikovsky. It was a success, unlike his first Sym. which received a disastrous perf. under Glazunov in St Petersburg in 1897. Rachmaninov withdrew the work, which was never again played in his lifetime. In 1897–8 he became 2nd cond. of the Moscow Private Russian Opera Co., forming a lifelong friendship with the co.'s then unknown bass Chaliapin. His first professional visit abroad was to London in 1899, where he played ‘the’ Prelude and cond. his orch. fantasy The Rock. At this time he lost faith in his power of comp., but was helped by hypnosis treatment from Dr Nikolay Dahl, also an amateur musician, who had many talks on mus. with his patient. A few months later Rachmaninov began his 2nd pf. conc., which was a great success at its f.p. and has remained immensely and rightly popular. The conc. was f.p. in Dec. 1900 without the 1st movt.; the f. complete p. was in April 1901. Thenceforward Rachmaninov comp. fluently. He worked simultaneously on 2 operas, The Miserly Knight and Francesca da Rimini, both of which he cond. at the Bolshoy where he was cond. 1904–6. Worried by political unrest in Russia, he moved to Dresden in 1906, beginning work on a 2nd Sym., the f.p. of which he cond. on a visit to St Petersburg in 1908. His first visit to USA followed in 1909, where he was soloist in the f.p. of his 3rd pf. conc. in NY. He returned to live in Russia, conducting several Moscow Phil. concerts in the 1912–13 season and completing his choral sym. The Bells. In 1917 he left Russia for ever and began a new career as int. concert pianist, making America his base. This reduced the time he had for comp. and it was not until 1926 that he completed the 4th pf. conc. he had begun in 1914. The work was played 1927 but was not, and never has been since, a success. After he signed a letter in 1931 attacking the Soviet régime his mus. was banned in Russia until 1933. In 1934 he comp. one of his finest works, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which was followed in 1936 by the 3rd Sym. In 1938 he was in London to play at Henry Wood's jubilee concert and gave his last London recital in Mar. 1939. He comp. the Symphonic Dances for orch. in 1940. Despite failing health he embarked on an arduous Amer. tour in the winter of 1942–3, giving the proceeds to war relief. After playing in Knoxville, Tennessee, on 15 Feb. he became seriously ill and died on 28 Mar.

Rachmaninov was one of the greatest of pianists, as is proved by his recordings not only of his own concs. but of other composers’ mus., incl. sonatas with the violinist Kreisler. The vigour and attention to detail of his cond. are also preserved on records. But it is as a composer that his name will live longest. He was the last of the colourful Russian masters of the late 19th cent., with their characteristic gift for long and broad melodies imbued with a resigned melancholy which is never long absent. His operas have failed to hold the stage, mainly because of defects in their libs., but recordings have enabled their splendid mus. to be appreciated. Three of the 4 pf. concs. are an ineradicable part of the romantic repertory, and the syms., though long overshadowed by the pf. works, have gained esteem and popularity. The songs are at last being recognized as among Russia's best. In his later years his style grew subtler, as can be heard in the Corelli Variations for pf., the Paganini Rhapsody, the last set of songs, and the Symphonic Dances. But his masterpiece is The Bells, in which all his powers are fused and unified. Prin. works:OPERAS: Aleko (1892); The Miserly Knight (Skupoy rytsar) Op.24 (1903–5); Francesca da Rimini, Op.25 (1900, 1904–5); Monna Vanna (1907, one act in pf. score).ORCH.: Scherzo in D minor (1887); Prince Rostislav (Knyaz Rostislav) (1891); The Rock (Utyos), Op.7 (1893); Caprice bohémien (Kaprichchio na tsiganskiye temi, Capriccio on gipsy themes), Op.12 (1892–4); syms.: No.1 in D minor, Op.13 (1895), No.2 in E minor, Op.27 (1906–8), No.3 in A minor, Op.44 (1935–6, rev. 1938); The Isle of the Dead (Ostrov myortvikh), Op.29 (1909); Symphonic Dances, Op.45 (1940).PIANO & ORCH.: concs.: No.1 in F♯ minor, Op.1 (1890–1, rev. 1917), No.2 in C minor, Op.18 (1900–1), No.3 in D minor, Op.30 (1909), No.4 in G minor, Op.40 (1914–26, rev. 1941); Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43 (1934).CHORAL: 6 Choruses, Op.15, women's or children's ch. (1895–6); Spring (Vesna), Op.20, cantata, bar., ch., orch. (1902); Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op.31 (1910); The Bells (Kolokola), Op.35, sym. for sop., ten., bar., ch., orch. (1913); All-Night Vigil (Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye), Op.37, soloists, ch. (1915); 3 Russian Songs, Op.41, ch., orch. (1926).CHAMBER MUSIC: 2 movts., str. qt. (1889, also arr. for orch. by Rachmaninov, 1891); Trio élégiaque, No.1 in G minor, pf., vn., vc. (1892); 2 Pieces, vc., pf., Op.2 (1892); 2 Pieces, vn., pf., Op.3 (1893); Trio élégiaque, No.2 in D minor, Op.9 (1893); 2 movts., str. qt. (?1896); vc. sonata in G minor, Op.19 (1901).PIANO: 3 Nocturnes (1887–8); 4 Pieces (?1888); Prelude in F (1891); 5 Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op.3 (No.2 is Prelude in C♯ minor, also arr. for 2 pf., 1938) (1892); 7 Morceaux de Salon, Op.10 (1893–4); 6 Moments Musicaux, Op.16 (1896); Variations on a theme of Chopin, Op.22 (1902–3); 10 Preludes, Op.23 (No.1 in F♯ minor, No.2 in B♭ major, No.3 in D minor, No.4 in D major, No.5 in G minor, No.6 in E♭ major, No.7 in C minor, No.8 in A♭ major, No.9 in E♭ minor, No.10 in G♭ major) (1903, except No.5 in 1901); 13 Preludes, Op.32 (No.1 in C, No.2 in B♭ minor, No.3 in E major, No.4 in E minor, No.5 in G major, No.6 in F minor, No.7 in F major, No.8 in A minor, No.9 in A major, No.10 in B minor, No.11 in B major, No.12 in G♯ minor, No.13 in D♭ major) (1910); Études tableaux, Op.33 (No.1 in F minor, No.2 in C, No.3 in E♭ minor, No.4 in E♭ major, No.5 in G minor, No.6 in C♯ minor (1911) (3 études of Op.33 were withdrawn by composer before publication: orig. No.4 in A minor (pubd. as Op.39, No.6), orig. No.3 in C minor and orig. No.5 in D minor (both pubd. 1948)); Études tableaux, Op.39 (No.1 in C minor, No.2 in A minor, No.3 in F♯ minor, No.4 in B minor, No.5 in E♭ minor, No.6 in A minor, No.7 in C minor, No.8 in D minor, No.9 in D major (1916–17, except No.6, comp. 1911, rev. 1916); Oriental Sketch (1917); Variations on a Theme of Corelli (La folia) (1931); sonatas: No.1 in D minor (1907), No.2 in B♭ minor (1913, rev. 1931).PIANO DUET: Romance in G (?1893); 6 Duets, Op.11 (1894).2 PIANOS: Russian Rhapsody in E minor (1891); Fantaisie-tableaux (Suite No.1), Op.5 (1893), Suite No.2, Op.17 (1900–1).SONGS: 6 Songs, Op.4 (1890–3); 6 Songs, Op.8 (1893); 12 Songs, Op.14 (1894–6); 12 Songs, Op.21 (1902; No.1 1900); 15 Songs, Op.26 (1906) (No.7 is To the Children, K detyam); Letter to K. S. Stanislavsky (1908); 14 Songs, Op.34 (1912; No.7 1910; No.14 is Vocalise, rev. 1915); 6 Songs, Op.38 (1916).

Also several transcr., incl. Scherzo from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream and 3 movts. of J. S. Bach's Partita No.3 for solo vn. (all 1933).

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov

views updated May 18 2018

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was a highly successful Russian composer, an unrivaled pianist, and a distinguished conductor. "I have followed three hares, " he once said. "Can I be certain that I have captured one?"

Sergei Rachmaninov was born in Novgorod on April 1, 1873, at the estate of his aristocratic, impoverished family. His paternal grandfather gave up his career in the army so that he could practice 5 hours a day; he was an amateur because at that time it was considered demeaning for men of his social class to be professional pianists. Sergei's parents were also musical, and his mother was his first piano teacher.

When Sergei was 9, his parents separated, and the mother and children moved to St. Petersburg. This was one of the most interesting and artistic cities in the world. The musical life centered on the conservatory, where Sergei was accepted as a student. He learned little from his teachers, so in 1885 his mother sent him to Moscow, Russia's other great musical and cultural center. He studied piano at the conservatory with Nicolai Sverev and lived at his teacher's house.

Rachmaninov became a fine pianist, but he was more interested in composing after he entered Anton Arensky's and Alexander Taneiev's classes. In 1892 Rachmaninov graduated in piano and also received the Gold Medal in composition, the conservatory's highest honor. His final project in composition, the one-act opera Aleko, was considered so outstanding that it received a professional production.

Diversified Activities

During the next 3 years Rachmaninov supported himself by teaching piano at two girls' schools, an occupation he did not enjoy. Among the pieces he wrote at this time was his Prelude in C-sharp Minor, which soon became one of the most popular piano pieces in the world. Its dark, "Russian" quality was irresistible, and it did more to make his name known than any of his other accomplishments.

In 1897 Rachmaninov's First Symphony was played in St. Petersburg; it was a fiasco, and the critics' reviews were merciless. The composer was aware of the symphony's weaknesses, and he became seriously depressed and unable to compose. He accepted an offer to become assistant conductor at an opera house but resigned after a year to conduct and play in London. Still suffering from a psychological block, he sought help from Nicolai Dahl, a physician who used hypnosis and suggestion to cure mental depression. The treatments were successful. In 1901 Rachmaninov completed his Second Piano Concerto, which he dedicated to Dahl. It had an immediate success and became one of the most frequently performed of all concertos. The concerto embodied the best traits of the composer's style, from the brooding sonorities of the opening chords, and the lyricism of the slow movement, to the brilliance of the third.

In 1902 Rachmaninov married his cousin, Natalie Satin, and continued his diversified activities. He found it difficult to follow his "three hares." He neglected composition when, in 1905, he became conductor at the Grand Theater Opera, a very important post in the musical life of Moscow. He soon resigned and moved to Dresden, Germany, to devote himself to composing. Two of his best works were completed in 1907: The Isle of the Dead, a tone poem; and the Second Symphony, whose high emotional level and colorful orchestration show a strong Tchaikovsky influence. By the time this symphony was composed, Debussy had written La Mer, Richard Strauss had written Salome, and Scriabin had written The Poem of Ecstasy, but Rachmaninov remained loyal to the ideals and idioms of late-19th-century romantic music.

In 1909 Rachmaninov visited the United States. He played the first performance of his Third Piano Concerto with the New York Symphony Orchestra and conducted the Boston Orchestra, as well as the New York Philharmonic. He was offered the post of conductor of the Boston Symphony but declined.

In 1910 Rachmaninov was named vice president of the Russian Imperial Music Society, which controlled all higher music schools in the country, including the conservatories in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He concentrated on improving the smaller provincial schools and established an important one in Kiev. All the while he was composing. Among his most important works were those for piano: Thirteen Preludes (1910), Six études Tableaux (1911), and Nine études Tableaux (1917). He wrote over 70 songs with piano accompaniment; The Bells, a choral symphony for soprano, tenor, and baritone (1913); and a Vesper Mass for boys' and men's voices (1913).

The Move to America

The turning point of Rachmaninov's life was the 1917 Revolution in Russia. He was in Moscow during the early uprisings, but he realized that it would be impossible to remain and accepted an invitation to play a series of concerts in Scandinavia. His family soon joined him, and they never returned to Russia. To support his family he became a concert pianist—something he never wanted to be. He rented a house in Copenhagen and started practicing to learn recital programs; up to this time he had played his own compositions almost exclusively.

In November 1918 Rachmaninov sailed for New York and began a career as a touring virtuoso. Each season was divided between the United States, England, and the Continent. Whenever he could, he would go to his house in Lucerne, Switzerland, where he enjoyed boating, driving his car, and composing. His Fourth Piano Concerto (1927), Third Symphony (1936), and Symphonoic Dances for Orchestra (1941) were not successful, but his Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini for piano and orchestra (1934) became a favorite of pianists and audiences alike and soon rivaled the Second Concerto in popularity. With the outbreak of World War II he moved to Beverly Hills, Calif. He died there on March 28, 1943.

Rachmaninov's life was not a happy one. He thought of himself as a composer, but he was never able to devote himself entirely to composition. Furthermore, although some of his compositions achieved worldwide popularity, most of the critics condemned them for being old-fashioned and reactionary, and he felt that he was out of step with the times. He hated concertizing, and his standards were so high that he was rarely pleased with his playing. His "six and a half foot tall scowl, " as his friend Igor Stravinsky called it, was famous.

Further Reading

Although Rachmaninov spoke disparagingly about the book by Oscar von Riesemann, Rachmaninov's Recollections (1934), it contains many interesting insights. Other biographies are Victor I. Seroff, Rachmaninoff (1950), and Sergei Bertensson and Jay Leyda, Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music (1956). A critical analysis of each composition is in John Culshaw, Rachmaninov: The Man and His Music (1950).

Additional Sources

Bazhanov, N. (Nikolai), Rachmaninov, Moscow: Raduga, 1983.

Lyle, Watson, Rachmaninoff: a biography, New York: AMS Press, 1976.

Martyn, Barrie, Rachmaninoff: composer, pianist, conductor, Aldershot, Hants, England: Scolar Press; Brookfield, Vt., USA: Gower Pub. Co., 1990.

Matthew-Walker, Robert, Rachmaninoff, London; New York: Omnibus Press, 1984, 1980.

Norris, Geoffrey, Rachmaninoff, New York: Schirmer Books: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1994.

Piggott, Patrick, Rachmaninov, London: Faber and Faber, 1978. □

Rachmaninov, Sergei Vasilievich

views updated Jun 27 2018


(18731943), one of the most famous of Russian composers.

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov was born in Oneg, Russia. He first established himself with his much-performed Prelude in C Sharp Minor, presented with Rachmaninov at the piano in the Moscow Conservatory auditorium in 1892. A few years later he composed his famous Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Soon after these successes he was appointed conductor at the Bolshoi Theater. Among his other works were an opera (Aleko, 1892), The Bells (a dramatic choral symphony composed in 1910), three instrumental symphonies, three other piano concertos, the Vocalise (two versions, 1916 and 1919) and other songs, the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (1934), and the Symphonic Dances (1940).

With the coming of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917, Rachmaninov exiled himself first to Germany, then to the United States. In the United States he had conducted his first (in 1909) but by no means only concert tour. His several succeeding appearances in New York City's Carnegie Hall won him early fame. Critics remarked at the unusual span of his hands as his fingers raced through the rich chords and arpeggios.

After his departure from Russia, Rachmaninov's writing remained outstanding. Found in the repertoires of orchestras worldwide, the Symphony No. 3 in A Minor (1936) is a stunning work whose structure is studied in music school composition classes. Some of Rachmaninov's music was included in film scores. Among these was the eerie music of "Isle of the Dead" in a 1945 film with Boris Karloff. Various parts of his other works turn up in many films.

Rachmaninov's music is considered Romantic while bearing traces of typically Russian themes and style of composition. Although banned in Soviet Russia for more than seventy years, Rachmaninov's music is as much admired in his homeland as the music of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, or Stravinsky. Beginning just before the demise of Communist rule in the early 1980s, Rachmaninov's music again adorned the repertoires of Russian orchestras.

See also: bolshoi theater; mighty handful; music

Albert L. Weeks

Rachmaninov, Sergei

views updated May 14 2018

Rachmaninov, Sergei (1873–1943) Russian composer and pianist. Composing in the tradition of Russian Romanticism, Rachmaninov's works include songs, four piano concertos, and three symphonies. His most popular works include Piano Concerto No. 2 (1901), Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934) and Symphony No. 2 (1907).

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